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The Importance of Empathy In Business

In a recent survey of 150 CEOs, over 80 percent recognized empathy as key to success. Empathic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult experiences such as layoffs. As Cheril Clarke, founder of PhenomenalWriting.com and an expert in business communication, writes in a recent blog postA shift to offering hope, discussing potential, talking about strength, and encouraging unity is what workers need more of right now. Succinct but muscular language such as “courage” accompanied by demonstrative visuals will go much further.”

Empathy is understanding another person’s situation and relating to his emotions. Even if you are a naturally empathetic person, empathy in business communication can often be lost in the process of getting the job done. After all, business decisions and management issues are based on facts, not emotions. However, you can gain employee and client trust by incorporating empathetic values into your day-to-day business communications. Empathetic values show you are considering not just business objectives but the needs and desires of employees and clients. Business communication empathy is developed by exercising general interpersonal communication skills.

The importance of empathy in business is rooted in data. According to Businessolver’s 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor report, empathy has a direct impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement. Here are some particularly striking data points from the report:

  • 77% of workers would be willing to work more hours for a more empathetic workplace; meanwhile, 60% would actually accept a slashed salary for the same.
  • 92% of HR professionals note that a compassionate workplace is a major factor for employee retention.
  • 80% of millennials noted that they would leave their current job if their office became less empathetic. 66% of Baby Boomers also shared this sentiment.

Empathy is also particularly critical to leadership development in this age of young, independent, highly marketable and mobile workers. There are three reasons why empathy is so important: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to retain talent. Leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways. This doesn’t mean that they agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, they thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings, along with other factors, in the process of making intelligent decisions.

Some propose that there is something wrong with today’s corporate world. That its individualistic leaders possess little empathy or inter-human skills. While there is general consensus about qualities such as intelligence, charisma, responsibility, vision, and passion, there are some ‘softer,’ more emotion driven skills, such as compassion and empathy, that have not been widely accepted as befitting of leadership execution. Humans are hardwired to connect to others. We are in an era when the nicest leaders will be the most successful and that ‘soft’ behaviors lead to hard results.

Clarke goes on to say, “It may genuinely be hard to step into the shoes of someone who lives in a different world than you (and who doesn’t have shareholder pressure barreling down on them), but remember their angst is just as strong. Their concerns are just as valid as any earnings report. Don’t be so above them that you can’t empathize and communicate in a way that you would want someone to speak to (or about) you—with RESPECT.”

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Surveys show that many managers consider empathy a sign of weakness or femininity, not the kind of thing businessmen embrace. Quite simply, these managers are wrong. Researchers who study leadership and corporate culture are turning up more and more evidence that empathic leaders build better teams, negotiate better deals and produce happier clients.

The principle of empathic communication is very powerful. Despite people often thinking it doesn’t lie in their circle of influence, it does. By mastering the principle, you acquire exact information, will be receptive and open to new, creative stimuli. This is an important precondition for leadership and influencing other people.

The nature of organizations, work and what motivates people has changed, and leadership needs to change to continue to be an important force. The days of the stereotypic autocratic, bureaucratic leader who exclusively focuses on task completion and “doing things” while ignoring the emotional states of employees has long passed. That change must be reflected in the kinds of people we choose and promote as leaders. We need to emphasize, encourage and develop emotional intelligence and empathy, or risk the negative consequences of not doing so.